03/10/2016 10:30AM

Neck ‘n Neck seeks first Tampa win in Challenger

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photos
Neck 'n Neck has earned more than $1 million but is winless at Tampa Bay Downs. Saturday's $100,000 Challenger Stakes would be a good time to break through.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – The 7-year-old horse Neck ‘n Neck has accomplished a lot in his career, winning four graded stakes and racking up $1.05 million in earnings. But he’s winless in three starts on the main track at Tampa Bay Downs and will have to fire fresh to break through in the $100,000 Challenger Stakes here Saturday.

The Challenger is a 1 1/16-mile race that lured a field of seven older horses, and Neck ‘n Neck drew the outside post under jockey Julien Leparoux. Ian Wilkes trains the horse for Waldorf Racing Stables. Neck ‘n Neck finished third in the 2015 Challenger, when it was worth only $60,000, losing by 6 1/2 lengths to the victorious General a Rod.

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KEY CONTENDERS

Neck ‘n Neck, by Flower Alley

Last 3 Beyers: 97-89-91

◗ He owns the field’s highest last-race Beyer Speed Figure for a runner-up finish behind Commissioner in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup in November.

◗ Four of his six wins have come at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Challenger, but the most recent of that quartet came way back in 2012 in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby.

◗ He has an uninterrupted string of six recent workouts at Palm Meadows in preparation for his return.

◗ Wilkes won this race in 2012 with Fort Larned.

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Outlash, by Unbridled’s Song

Last 3 Beyers: 94-91-74

◗ Trainer Todd Pletcher has won three of the 24 editions of the Challenger, including last year’s, and has the most lightly raced horse in this field. Outlash has won two of his five starts and enters off a neck win in a first-level allowance at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 31.

◗ Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez have combined to go 5 for 7 here since the start of 2015, with a gaudy $4.63 return on investment.

Breaking Lucky, by Lookin At Lucky

Last 3 Beyers: 81-48-93

◗ He won the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes, last year but hasn’t raced since finishing third in the Grade 3 Ontario Derby in September. The bullet five-furlong move in one minute at Palm Beach Downs on Feb. 28 signals his readiness for trainer Reade Baker.

Ghost Hunter, by Ghostzapper

Last 3 Beyers: 88-94-89

◗ He excels on Tampa’s main track, with four wins and two runner-up finishes in six starts, and enters off a win in a $31,400 handicap here last month under top local jockey Antonio Gallardo, who retains the mount. The runner-up from that race, This Boy’s Sharp, also returns here.

Ami’s Holiday, by Harlan’s Holiday

Last 3 Beyers: 81-90-90

◗ He’s winless in three starts on fast dirt tracks and will try to snap an eight-race losing streak since winning the third leg of the 2014 Canadian Triple Crown, the Breeders’ Stakes, on turf.